Back in the summer of 1787, on the narrow streets of Philadelphia in what is now called Independence Hall, god-fearing men were sequestered for 100 days in the hot summer sun. Laboring. Debating. And finally, in the end and only by the miraculous grace of God, crafting the US Constitution.
On the way home on that final day, having just produced the most politically unique document in human history, Ben Franklin was approached by a neighborly lady outside Independence Hall. She got right to the point, asking, “Well doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?” Franklin’s reply was legendary:
“A republic, madam – if you can keep it.”
That one line – if you can keep it – contains the very philosophy and hopes of our nation’s founders. And it is the title of Eric Metaxas’ latest book. Having just finished the book, I commend it to every American. But in particular, I urge every Christian in America to read it. And even more especially, I urge the precious members of the church I pastor to take the time to read this book before you go vote in November.
Unlike most every political book I’ve ever read, this one grounds the very promise of self-government in the spiritual condition of the colonists. You see, the writers of our Constitution dared to form a government of “We the People” only because they truly believed their fellow Americans possessed a common morality to enable them to do so. And that common morality was undeniably impacted and formed by the First Great Awakening.
That Awakening was a sovereign move of God’s Spirit on the American people’s hearts whereby He swept many into the Kingdom of Jesus Christ and made them new creatures in Christ. The preaching of men like Jonathon Edwards and George Whitfield and John and Charles Wesley was the instrument God Almighty used to light this spiritual fuse in the new nation. Our Founders wrote extensively on their faith in the Christian Bible and the Christian religion. I scarcely need to even argue the point that they leaned heavily on the Bible and the values and ethics contained therein to structure our Republic. Even the least godly and spiritual of our Founders, such as Franklin, wrote things that made them sound like ministers of the Gospel. It was the “non-Christian” Franklin, after many weeks of absolute deadlock within the Constitutional Convention that led the men to began crying out in daily prayers together for God’s aid to bring them to unity!
Alexis de Tocqueville came from France in the mid-1800s to study the wonder of American culture and political success. He wrote in his book Democracy in America:
Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.
That quote has been used by many Presidents, including Eisenhower, Reagan and Clinton. And Tocqueville went on to conclude, “Liberty cannot be established without morality.” That’s precisely what our Founders believed! Regarding the various Christian denominations (which he called sects) in 19th century America, de Tocqueville wrote:
The sects that exist in the United States are innumerable. They all differ in respect to the worship which is due to the Creator; but they all agree in respect to the duties which are due from man to man. Each sect adores the Deity in its own peculiar manner, but all sects preach the same moral law in the name of God . . . Moreover, all the sects of the United States are comprised within the great unity of Christianity, and Christian morality is everywhere the same.
Friends, are you starting to see the very fabric that made our Nation powerful and unique for so many decades? Looking to Divine Revelation in the Bible for our morality bound us together as a people. It is why our Founders believed we might actually be able to “keep” the Republic they gave us. I distinctly remember my Dad telling me that when he was growing up, even the pagan neighbors held to a common ethical and moral code as the church-going neighbors! Now we have churches calling themselves Christian who endorse the very behaviors God so clearly calls sin in His Word. America no longer even has a shared moral code among Christianity, much less among Hollywood and Wall Street. God help us. How can we ever govern ourselves like this?
This is not to say past generations of Americans were less sinful, or less in need of the forgiveness that comes only by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. It is rather to say that this very gospel truth being proclaimed from pulpits and street corners and even the Halls of Congress is what created our Republic and gave hope to people that they just might be able to “keep it.” Our Nation needs a revival of God coming through the Gospel once again! And that must needs begin with us, dear Christians and churches.
Today, extremes are becoming fashionable. To hate America. Or to idolize America. Neither is good. Of course we have national sins in our past, present, and surely in our future. We need to keep repenting of them and asking God in Christ to forgive us and heal us. On the other hand, we have some reasons to think we just might still be unconquerable. After all, we’ve produced the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Billy Graham. Yes, I realize those two people are universes apart theologically. But my point is – would those two have arisen from any other nation in the world? America worked for them! Why don’t we see democratic republics in China, or southeast Asia, or the Middle Eastern countries, or Northern Africa? Why doesn’t it work when we try to export democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan?
Spiritual truth and realities drive all others. People whose hearts have not been radically transformed by the grace of God in the Gospel of Jesus Christ do not typically thrive in a system of self-government. They almost require some form of tyranny or monarchy or dictatorship. It’s the only way to keep law and order.
Now consider what is happening every day across America. And maybe you’ll see why I believe with every fiber of my being that our one and only hope for somehow “keeping it” is a Sovereign move of God to give us another Great Awakening. No political ruler or party can possibly rescue America from herself. Law and order will continue to disintegrate unless and until the King of Kings either revives His people and sends us out once again a people on fire for telling everyone of Him, or He returns in glory to literally reign over all in majesty and grace. I’m praying God will once again make America good, by applying the blood of Jesus to more and more hearts as we share the gospel widely. I’m praying we’ll then be able to once again massively export true goodness – the righteousness of Christ applied by grace through faith – to the nations of the world.
Interested in this line of thinking? Read If You Can Keep It. But mostly, keep reading your Bibles.